Seanad debates

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Technological Universities Bill 2015: Committee Stage (Resumed)

 

SECTION 16

Debate resumed on amendment No. 19:

2:30 pm

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Mitchell O'Connor, back to the House. The debate will resume on Committee Stage of the Technological Universities Bill 2015. When the debate adjourned last week, the House was discussing amendment No. 19 which had been moved by Senator Alice Mary Higgins. A number of Senators had contributed. Before I call on the Minister of State, do any other Senators wish to contribute at this point?

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Were amendments Nos. 19 and 20 grouped together?

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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To remind Members, we were discussing amendment No. 19. Amendments Nos. 19, 20, 32 and 38 are related and may be discussed together. That was agreed. Amendment No. 20 is an alternative to amendment No. 19.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Perfect. There are two amendments here in respect of academic councils, which are variations of one another. I listened to some of the debate at home last week from my sick bed. I turned it off after a while when I realised that watching work from home was making me feel even more unwell. When I watched back, I was really struck by people's lack of understanding around the strength of student representation in universities as it stands. I think it was being mixed up with technological universities.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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Exactly.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Senator Ó Céidigh spoke about the board he is on, perhaps in Galway. It was somewhere in the west of Ireland. Institutes of technology do not historically have as positive and as established a student representation as the universities. As they are now going to become part of the university sector, we are trying to put them on the same footing as what currently exists in the college structure. I sat on the governing board and finance board of Trinity College. Our education officer and three student convenors sat on the academic council. It has always been a very positive, welcoming experience. This is about creating the space to allow for the same strength across the technological universities. It has always been quite a positive experience.

The Bill as currently worded states that the academic council shall have "such number of students of the technological university as it considers appropriate". I noticed in the Minister of State's comments from the last debate that she said that because there will be student representation on the governing boards which will set the regulations for students on the academic council, the students' voice will be heard and that they will be able to advocate for a given number of students to be on the council. However, on some governing boards there will be as few as one student. If there is ever a vote, they will not have enough power or say to sway it in order to ensure that there is student representation on the academic councils.

I will probably not push amendment No. 19 and I will focus on amendment No. 20, which is a very reasonable amendment. It just changes the term "appropriate" to "but not less than 1” so that, at the very least, there is sure to be one student representative on an academic council.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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We are discussing amendment No. 19 at the moment. Senators Marie-Louise O'Donnell and Gerard Craughwell have indicated.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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I wish to make some observations about the Bill generally and I am sorry that they do not speak to the amendment. First, there is not enough included about the registrar. A registrar is an academic reference point for ethos and standards and he or she should be a member of the governing authority. I do not think that is in the Bill. There is also no reference to the university secretary being on the governing authority. I agree with Senator Ruane that we are trying to parallel the university system here. It is a very important position because it has legal as well as academic authority. I find it fascinating also that there is no schedule setting out the role of the president. The role of a president in any university is very important because he or she can come from outside. They do not necessarily come from inside the campus. That is extremely important. There is also no reference to the president as Accounting Officer for the university.

I also feel that, because this is a Bill on technological universities, there should be more emphasis on teaching. Half of the universities live in their heads and many people in universities do not know how to teach. Teaching is a strength of technological universities and there should be more reference to it in the Bill. There is no schedule about the role of the chairman of the governing authority, and he or she also usually comes from outside. What is the role of the chairman? What are their duties? What is expected of him or her? It is a serious role and he or she has a duty to be informed, to act in accordance with the university ethos and to keep the governing authority in line. In turn, he or she is to be kept in line legally by the secretary. They are huge roles and I would like to see more emphasis on them. These are just general observations. I do not have a problem with the Bill otherwise but these are just my general feelings about it.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 19 and 20, which are being taken together, are trying to guarantee that there will be a student on the academic council. That is what we are trying to do. Legislation that is written today may not be questioned for the next 50 years; indeed, it might not be questioned for the next 100 years. On the day it is questioned, however, if it is not clear that there must be at least one student on the academic council, the man or woman with the wig, the judge who will ultimately be the arbitrator of the legislation if it is challenged, will turn around and say that the legislation simply states "as it considers appropriate" and that a board of governors may look at this question and decide that it is inappropriate for there to be a student on the academic council at a given time. That can happen and it is for that reason and that reason alone that we must ensure that at least one student will be on the academic council. It has to happen. Nobody in this room can put hand on heart and say that this will never happen.

Photo of Marie Louise O'DonnellMarie Louise O'Donnell (Independent)
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One cannot say that about anything.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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One can say whatever one likes about anything.

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)
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The legislation is what is adjudicated on in the event of a challenge in the courts. As legislators, we have an obligation to ensure that legislation is clear in the direction it gives. We have an obligation to do that. All the niceties and remarks under the sun do not take away from the fact that it will not take a genius of a barrister to challenge this if we do not underpin the right of the students to have at least one representative on the academic council.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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If the Minister of State does not accept this amendment, it will be perfectly obvious that she will not accept any amendments. The Government does not want the Bill to go back to the Dáil for this reason and, for that reason, I suggest we have a vote on the amendments and draw the matter to a conclusion. I have already given many reasons to show that one possible interpretation is that it is not necessary to have one student. That is quite clear. The English language is absolutely plain on that. That would be a legal interpretation of it. This is an unusual case but it is not impossible to comprehend.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Labour)
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I support these amendments. It is not only necessary to have a student representative but a students' union representative. We would not want a student representative to be chosen by the governing body or by a body that is alien to the students' union. Students' unions are constituted by the student body itself. We would be keen that it would be a students' union representative. I also find myself in a similar position to Senator Norris in that I am disappointed at the Government's failure to accept these amendments. We had tabled an amendment about having an Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, representative on the governing body as well and that amendment was ruled out on the spurious ground that it represented a cost to the Exchequer. I support these amendments. We should have a vote. I hope that people in this House will see sense and vote in favour of the amendments.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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We discussed this last week and a number of us were becoming ever more disillusioned with the response from the Government on this matter. This is a very reasonable amendment. I cannot see any reason to object to it apart from the Government not being bothered to send it back to the Dáil, as Senator Norris has said.I bumped into the president of the Union of Students in Ireland today as I was going about my work. I could see how disappointed he was in how the Government is dealing with this. Students in the institutes of technology are anxious to see if the Government will listen to the most reasonable of requests. The message coming from the Government is that it does not matter how reasonable the request is because it is just not going to listen. That is the most depressing thing; regardless of what the request is, we have a Government that simply will not listen. That is the message it is sending out to some of the brightest of our young people who are coming through third level education. What a depressing prospect that is. While I hope the Government has a change of mind, I must say I am not optimistic.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator. I believe I am reasonable and I did mention section 28(1)(c), page 28, of the Universities Act. What we are doing is mirroring that Act, which provides that the composition of the academic council should include an appropriate number of students. That is the basis of my argument.

I said this here last week and am reiterating it very strongly. The governing body will include student numbers. I would never envisage a situation in which a governing body which includes, among others, representatives of the student body of the TU would have-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I am sorry, I do not wish to interrupt the Minister of State but could I ask for guidance? She referred to page 28. Could she tell us which line on that page? I cannot find what she is talking about. I apologise for interrupting but I would like to follow the argument very clearly.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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It was in reference to the Universities Act. Not this Bill.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I beg your pardon. Now the confusion has been cleared.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I would not envisage, if the students are on the governing body, that they would ever not be represented on the academic council. The Senators are all jumping to zero but I am not jumping to zero. Actually what it says is, "such number of students of the technological university as it considers appropriate". That could be two, four, six-----

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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Or zero.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Zero is a number too.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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As the students are already on the governing body, they will have a voice. They have a voice on the academic council and it will be up to the governing body to decide how many students.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Students are a very small minority on the governing body.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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They are a very strong voice in education and higher education.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Following on from what Senator Norris was saying about the number of students on governing bodies being very small, as a student who sat on a governing body I can say it is a very intimidating space to walk into. I was an adult who had worked in different sectors of society for years and I still felt intimidated by the level of knowledge in the room, the academics in the room, people who had been doing the governance of Trinity for years and knew it inside out. It takes a while to catch up. As a student president on a board like that, I was in a minority, not only in the sense that I was just one person but also that I had years less experience than any of the people in that room. Sometimes something would happen in a meeting before there was even time to catch it.

We need to make sure, legally, that institutes of technology have strong representation in these spaces because their student unions are still only developing and are not as strong as those in the rest of the university sector. It is a very intimidating space to be in and we should make sure we protect students in that space by accepting amendment No. 20.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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I think we have exhausted the debate on amendment No. 19 at this point. How stands the amendment?

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I am withdrawing amendment No. 19.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 20:

In page 19, line 34, after “appropriate” to insert “but not less than 1, nominated by the student union in accordance with its own procedures”.

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 20 has already been discussed with amendment No. 19. How stands the amendment?

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I am pressing amendment No. 20.

Amendment put:

The Committee divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 17.



Tellers: Tá, Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Lynn Ruane; Níl, Senators Gabrielle McFadden and John O'Mahony.

Amendment declared lost.

Section 16 agreed to.

Sections 17 to 27, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 28

Photo of Gerry HorkanGerry Horkan (Fianna Fail)
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Amendments Nos. 21 and 23 are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I move amendment No. 21:

In page 28, line 2, to delete "to at least honours bachelor degree level".

The purpose of the Bill is to provide the regions that currently do not enjoy the presence of a full university access to a higher standard of third-level education. This is an aim I support. We must ensure the provisions of the Bill do not mean that it will amount to a mere rebranding exercise, and these amendments are aimed at ensuring there is no fall off in standards from the existing national norms for education. The worst–case scenario outcome for the Bill would be that it would amount to a huge and expensive rebranding exercise that amalgamated campuses at great cost and for no subsequent benefit increase in quality.

Amendment No. 21 seeks to ensure that a large swathe of students - all those from levels 6 to level 8 - are captured by the section, which sets out the calculation of the eligibility criteria for applicant bodies.This would have the effect of dramatically distorting the figures relating to the number of students engaged in what we now consider academic research. In a worst-case scenario, students in taught level 9 programmes could be redesignated with, for example, course work reassigned as part of their thesis, thereby pushing them above the 60% final project compliance as laid out in the Bill. This sleight of hand could mean easy compliance with the 4% figure, without anything close to genuine research work being carried out. Such research work, as we currently understand it, is defined by Quality and Qualifications Ireland as involving numerous essential aspects, including a research strategy, research infrastructure, appropriate supervisory arrangements, capacity and more. It is essential that these standards should not be compromised.

Under existing definitions, none of the potential applicants would meet the 4% research requirement. Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, would be closest at 4.2%. However, with level 6, 7 and 8 students removed from consideration, all but Galway Mayo IT leap well past it. Is it seriously being proposed that the current level of research in the existing institutions is more than adequate and that this is the level of research we would hold them to as technological universities? Research is at the core of all true academia - the generation of new knowledge and innovation, the sparking of new thoughts and the development of new ideas. I hope the Minister of State will accept that the current wording in the Bill would set the bar far too low in this regard.

Along the same lines, amendment No. 23 seeks to pursue the same principle with regard to the academic staff that make up the teaching staff at the technological universities in the future. The current level of those with a PhD in third-level teaching staff in our universities is 81%. Considering the development and increased standards in academia in Ireland and the world over the past few decades, it would be unlikely for a new university hire to have attained such a level nowadays. However, stipulations in the legislation would again allow for a massaging of the figures. Under the existing definition in section 28(1)(c), all institutes of technology are comfortably in excess of the target of 45% with PhD or equivalent. By artificially suppressing the number of lecturers included for the purposes of the assessment, only a tiny number of the total staff would be included, virtually guaranteeing automatic compliance with an artificially low number. These issues matter because standards in our colleges and universities matter. I implore the Minister of State to think about the effect that such a low bar would have, not only on the operation of the technological universities but also on their long-term viability as respected institutions.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I support the Senator for the reasons she has stated. There is no point in regurgitating them ad nauseam. I have tabled an amendment for Report Stage along these very lines. It states: "To delete “to at least honours bachelor degree level". I have also tabled a related amendment, which will be another test for the Minister of State. This is a grammatical change and I am sure the Minister will accept that I have some degree of understanding of matters grammatical.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Did the Senator say "dramatical" or "grammatical"?

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I would be very happy. The Minister of State and I are both drama queens. We know that.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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The Senator would win on that score.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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The Minister of State would too. She is an absolute star of the silent screen.

The phrase "to an award to at least" is used in section 28(1)(a)(i). The second "to" is redundant; it should be "of". The phrase "at least 4 per cent are research students registered on a programme" is also used. This should be amended to "registered on a research programme" because without the second "research", it could be a programme of any kind. I am concerned about these matters and I have tabled amendments for Report Stage.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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Earlier in this debate and on Second Stage, I flagged my concern regarding the eligibility criteria, which we all agree are fundamental to the legislation and to any institution of education. The criteria relate to the composition of the student body, academic staff and PhD and research activity, as well as the ability of an institution to perform in terms of governance, quality assurance and collaboration with regional stakeholders. I share the concerns of colleagues, which are outlined in Senator Grace O'Sullivan's amendment. I have been around long enough to remember the upgrading of regional technical colleges, RTCs, to institutes of technology in the 1980s and 1990s. I make no apologies for being parochial because at the time Waterford RTC had advanced to a stage where it was one of the leading institutes at the time and there was a recognition that it should, on merit, be elevated to institute of technology status. However, many of the other RTCs were upgraded at the same time and this lessened the elevated standard that Waterford RTC had achieved on merit.

I am concerned that something similar is happening again. In 2012, the Hunt report set out criteria that have since been amended. The criteria rightly set a high bar for any institute of technology to achieve the status of technological university. We often read about the ranking of Irish universities globally and sometimes concerns are expressed that they are slipping down the rankings. To have substance behind various degree courses, we need to have confidence in the institutes issuing them. Are we just responding to the demands of the time to have all institutes of technology upgraded to technological universities? They should only be elevated on merit. I do not say that to be disrespectful to any institute of technology. According to HEA data, DIT is streets ahead with 448 level 10 PhD students. The next highest is WIT with 148, while CIT has 116; IT Sligo, 35; GMIT, 26; and Carlow IT, 9. These figures demonstrate where strong research is being done in colleges. DIT is progressing strongly towards university status. However, WIT is next and that is why the argument has been made for years that it merits university status. While I am supportive of the legislation, I share the concerns regarding standards in the context of the eligibility criteria. Why have the criteria been amended from those set out in the original plan in 2012? Six years later, they have been diluted. If institutes of technology merge and go through the process, all of them will achieve technological university status. If I am wrong, I will stand corrected. This again suggests that we are just responding to a political demand or lobby to the effect that all institutes of technology should be elevated.However, that takes away from the merit of, and the work that has been put in by, institutes that have expanded their courses and student bases and that have elevated all of their academic staff by supporting them to achieve higher levels of lecturing. I am concerned about this and I hope the Minister of State can address this concern. We do not want a name change or for every institution to be granted university status just because they achieve what I believe to be a reduced standard. We need a robust threshold so that we can have confidence in the level of achievement. I hope that the Minister of State can respond to my concerns in this regard.

The proposers of the amendments have made their arguments very well. Senator Norris and others have said that there is a place for technical colleges, for institutes of technology and for technological universities. They need to be clearly differentiated however. They need to be differentiated by quality of education, by the number of PhDs and by the research carried out in those institutes. We cannot have them all on the same pitch if they do not have the same levels of achievement. I am voicing my concern in that regard to the Minister of State.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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On page 27, section 28 sets out the detailed eligibility criteria to be complied with by institutions that wish to become technological universities. I assure the Senator that we are not lowering the bar. This will be a step-change in education and in institutes of higher education right across the country. That is what we want. The criteria are based on the original criteria set out in the Higher Education Authority's document, Towards a Future Higher Education Landscape. They present a realistic and ambitious set of targets for applicant institutes seeking to achieve technological university status. They protect the commitment to level 6 and level 7 programmes and the securing of the necessary talent pipeline supply at those relevant skill levels. However, they set the bar for higher level programme participation at challenging, though attainable and progressive, targets. The application process requires the demonstration of compliance with the eligibility criteria for technological university designation. The current criteria are supported by the Higher Education Authority and the Technological Higher Education Association and they are considered appropriate as key elements for establishing technological university designation in the Irish context.

Moreover, to seek to introduce additional requirements into the criteria now, when consortia have been working long and hard to attain long-set criteria would be a significant change of direction which would likely delay the process of technological university development. They have also set the bar for staff development and qualifications. The consortia have undertaken considerable work to ensure compliance with these criteria. It would not be helpful at this stage to change the criteria to those proposed in these amendments. The criteria were arrived at through a process of consultation and discussion. They represent a challenge for the applicants, but one that is attainable. I do not support a change of the type proposed in these amendments. It is also very important to say that all eligibility criteria will be assessed by an expert advisory panel which will include international experts. That is going to happen.

I have every confidence in some of the consortia that have moved considerably along the road, for example, the TU4 Dublin group. I have every confidence that these consortia will succeed but they have to make sure that their eligibility criteria are assessed. Some of the other technological university applicant groups have gone some of the way but are not quite there yet. I heard one comment that every institute of technology will be able to join a consortium and become a technological university. That is not the case. They will have to go through an eligibility process.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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To avoid confusion and to allow me to table an amendment on Report Stage, I did say that I strongly supported Senator Grace O'Sullivan; I just said it in a general way. I would like to indicate to the Minister of State that, with regard to section 28, I intend to put down an amendment in respect of lines 20 and 21 to remove the phrase "engaged in the provision of a programme that leads to an award to at least honours bachelor degree level" and to use the term "an award of".

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I would be interested to hear from the Minister of State how many of the institutes of technology, IOTs, make the grade. She has said that there is a challenge for the IOTs but it would be interesting to know that at this stage and it would influence whether I decide to press the amendment or bring it forward to Report Stage.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Before I call Senator Coffey, I welcome Deputy Peadar Tóibín and his guests to the Public Gallery.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for her response. On the element of standards, it has been brought to my attention that a new definition of research students has been introduced since the original proposal. That new definition changes the ability of IOTs to qualify. The change to the definition of research students means that more IOTs will achieve technological university status. There was also a change in respect of excluding the body of staff from the requirement for 45% of staff to hold PhDs. Those changes jointly amount to lower qualification criteria in themselves. These are the concerns which are being expressed to me.

I am taking the opportunity to be parochial because there has been a campaign in Waterford for a university for the region for 20 or 30 years now. It is not based on pipe dreams or false ambitions. It is based on hard work, graft and ability to deliver in terms of the staff of the institute over those years and the students who have graduated from it. The students are of the highest standards and I want to acknowledge that. Without disrespect to the other institutes, we need to reward that perseverance and that ability to deliver in terms of educational attainment from the top of the spectrum right to the bottom.

Waterford Institute of Technology, WIT, already meets the criteria that have been set because it has the numbers in respect of its academic staff and it has the student numbers carrying out the levels of research. If it is the case, and it is, that we genuinely want to advance technological universities, based on the existing numbers that Waterford Institute of Technology has, it should be allowed go alone. It is not right for a Government Senator to be saying that but I am speaking based on the facts that I see, the evidence that is before me and what I have learned over many years with regard to Waterford Institute of Technology. The figures in the HEA data tell me that WIT already reaches those standards in terms of academia, research students and so on. I want to put my concern on the record that there is more or less a forced marriage in respect of WIT. It is being forced to amalgamate when the institute already achieves the standards.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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The Bill as written means that an institute cannot advance unless it amalgamates. It does not reward WIT for the work that it has done. It is forcing an amalgamation. If it happens and if it will be to the benefit of the region I will support it because the region does need a university but, as the legislation is being brought forward, I am putting it on the record that Waterford Institute of Technology already attains the standards.As evidence of the suspicions I have had in this regard for many years, I would mention that when it was decided in the late 1990s to elevate the then Waterford Regional Technical College to institute of technology status, all the other regional technical colleges around the country were subsequently elevated to institute of technology status as well. I believe this took from the merit and the benefit of the college at that time. I am afraid this will happen again. I think it is the wrong way to advance. We have to differentiate. Even in primary school, education deals with differentiation. I think we should do it at third level as well. We should reward attainment and high standards. I know the Bill means to do that. We should not be bringing everybody up for the sake of it. We should not be forcing amalgamations for the sake of them.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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Can I clarify that I support the Bill? I can only speak for the Institute of Technology, Carlow. As I have said in this House previously, it is an excellent college. I want to welcome this Bill. The people of Carlow are very proud of the Institute of Technology, Carlow and the courses-----

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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And rightly so.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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It is one of the best in the country.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I absolutely and totally disagree with the previous speaker. The people of Carlow would be delighted to get university status. We are proud of the Institute of Technology, Carlow. Our courses are among, and are, the best in the country.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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They are hardly the best.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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We are one of the best. We are as good as the rest.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Céard faoi Choláiste na Tríonóide?

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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We have an academic council that decides these things.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I have heard Senator Coffey's arguments. We have gone a long way on this road now. We have been talking about technological universities for many years. I believe the proposal was withdrawn in 2015. We went back to the drawing board. Since then, we have consulted all the various stakeholders. I have had heard the same message I have heard from Senator Coffey from Senator McFadden in respect of Athlone Institute of Technology. She wants to know why it cannot establish itself as a technological university. First of all, we need a critical mass to make sure standards are high with that critical mass. I do not have the exact numbers in front of me. For example, University College Dublin probably has approximately 20,000 students. The Dublin technological university will have approximately 28,000 students. The Munster technological university, which will comprise Cork and Kerry institutes of technology, will have 14,000 students.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I think University College Dublin has slightly more than 20,000 students. Trinity College has 20,000 students.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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The figure for Waterford is 7,550. I know this argument has been made previously. I stand to be corrected. The figure for Athlone is approximately 5,000.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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Two thirds of our students leave the region to go to university.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I think the Senator is arguing against himself when he says that.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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I am not.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I ask the Senator to let me explain. There will now be a university offering in Waterford, Carlow and Wexford, all joined as a consortium. Students will be able to choose whether they want to go to a university in their own region. The last time we debated this issue, Senator Coffey pointed out strongly that many students never come back. That was pointed out to me strongly when I served as Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. That message was loud and clear when I had the great pleasure of going to Waterford to open new companies there. Standards will be maintained and will improve. We will have more students. The consortium will have approximately 14,500 students. There will be a competing offering for students to continue on and do their master's degrees and, if they so wish and they attain the requisite standards, to go on and do their PhDs. Quite honestly, we have moved on. I know Waterford Institute of Technology is very good. I am certainly not taking from it or from the Institute of Technology, Carlow. I am not going to be a judge, like Solomon, deciding between them here. We have gone along the road. We have done all the consultation with the different stakeholders. I believe we have a number of consortiums that are going to apply for technological university status in the coming months. When they do so, they will have to prove their eligibility. It is not a given. They will have to show they come up to the standards. I assure the House that I want high standards. I want our students to be able to stand on the international stage, or our national stage, and be able to get jobs that are just as good as the jobs of their international peers.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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To me, the question of numbers is a load of old balls. When I was in Trinity College 50 years ago, the combined number of staff and students was less than 3,000. It was still one of the best universities in the world. I am not convinced by the argument about numbers. Can I say that the Institute of Technology, Carlow is excellent?

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I have spoken in Carlow. I was terribly impressed by the students. I am not sure whether it has expanded into the humanities and law and so on.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Very good. I certainly know that Waterford Institute of Technology, for which I spoke ten or 15 years ago looking for it to be made a university, has expanded vigorously into law and the humanities. That is what makes a university. I simply do not believe one can have a university which is just technical. It is not a university if it is just technical. The word "university" suggests a kind of breadth and so on. For that reason, I intend to submit an amendment on this issue. I think I heard the Minister of State referring to Wexford.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Yes.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Is there an institute of technology in Wexford?

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Yes, there is.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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It is an outreach facility.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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There is an outreach facility in Wexford in addition to the facilities in Carlow and Waterford.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I do not know anything about Wexford.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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There is something for everyone in the audience.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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It is a new one on me.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Well, there you go.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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There I go all right.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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Senator Norris has not been invited to speak there yet.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I do not care unless I get a vote.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Is Senator O'Sullivan pressing the amendment?

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I will withdraw it and bring it forward again on Report Stage, when I hope to get more information.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 22:

In page 28, line 14, to delete "age;" and substitute the following:

"age,

and(iii) at least 5 per cent have entered the applicant institutes at NQF level 5 or below;".

This amendment, which I have moved on behalf of Senator Higgins, seeks to ensure the good track record of institutes of technology in attracting and accommodating a diversity of students is preserved in the technological universities. As many institutes of technology have a strong commitment to providing pathways to students from non-traditional learning backgrounds, they have given many students an opportunity to study at third level that would otherwise not have been open to them. This amendment seeks to protect this tradition. I would like to hear what the Minister of State has to say on this issue.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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The reference in this amendment to "NQF level 5" relates to honours leaving certificate qualifications as well as other types of further education qualifications. One would expect many of the students who are coming into an institute of technology to have leaving certificate qualifications. Therefore, they would be at the NQF stage referred to in the amendment. This amendment may have been tabled in search of reassurance that students at lower levels of qualification are adequately represented. Section 9(1) of this Bill specifically requires technological universities to "provide teaching and facilitate learning that .... promotes excellence at all levels of higher education" within the NQF. Furthermore, it requires technological universities to "provide programmes of education and training that reflect the needs of individuals" and to "provide for the broad education, intellectual and personal development of students". Equity of access to higher education is a fundamental principle of Irish education policy. The higher education system performance framework is the key instrument for overseeing progress against goals, objectives and targets in the national access plan and broader access strategies.The new system performance framework is in place for the period from 2018 to 2020. These key objectives are set out by the Government and will form the basis for the next iteration of strategic dialogue on access between the Higher Education Authority, HEA, and the higher education institutions. Among the key targets for the 2018-20 framework is sustaining the expansion of under-represented groups, with 2,000 additional enrolments from socio-economically disadvantaged groups and 1,000 enrolments from further education access programmes. It would not be advisable to provide for specific targets in primary legislation, as an ongoing review of progress is vital to enable the widest possible flexibility, ensuring the greatest range of pathways into higher education. Therefore I will not be accepting the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I move amendment No. 23:

In page 28, line 21, to delete “that leads to at least honours bachelor degree level”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 24:

In page 30, line 24, to delete “programmes;” and substitute the following:
“programmes,
(vi) that they have a strategy and capacity to meet the standards required for an Athena Swan Silver Award and that they have initiated that process;”.

This amendment seeks to ensure that the universities established under this Bill have the capacity to meet the highest possible standards. The Athena SWAN award sets the standard for gender equality in third-level institutions, and it has been very encouraging to see so many universities and institutions around Ireland put mechanisms and strategies to earn this award in place. However, no institute of technology, IT, has yet been awarded an Athena SWAN award at any level, although some have initiated the process. This is an area that should be made a priority in the establishment of the universities, especially because funding will soon become contingent on achieving at least a silver award. It seems only logical that it is given statutory footing in this Bill.

I know the Minister of State's commitment to gender equality in education, and I hope she can accept this amendment. I think this is an exceptionally important amendment, considering that some universities have applied several times for the Athena SWAN and have been refused it. They have been working on their implementation processes for many years and have not been able to reach that standard. If university funding or a part thereof is to become contingent on achieving that Athena SWAN award, I note the institutes of technology will be coming in to that process very late. This amendment is about how they can have the capacity and resources to be able to achieve the required standard in gender equality.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Who grants it?

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I am not sure who sets the criteria or grants the Athena SWAN awards.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Does the Minister of State know who they are?

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Athena SWAN is an award for which institutions apply. Only five universities have received bronze awards, namely, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, the University of Limerick, University College Dublin and University College Cork.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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Could the Minister of State explain what Athena SWAN is?

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Athena SWAN is an awards system. The awards available are bronze, silver and gold. It recognises the ways in which women are promoted in our different higher education institutions.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I guess the National University of Ireland, Galway will not get one.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State may continue, without interruption.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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Anyone who knows me will know that I am a strong advocate for gender equality and I have set up a task force. We will receive a report from that task force in March, which will outline ways we can ensure that women succeed in being promoted in our universities. I am sure the Senator knows as well as I do that the first university in Ireland was set up 425 years ago, and there has never been a woman president of a university in Ireland. I hope to see that happen very soon.

I note, however, that there are women presidents of institutes of technology. However, I do not just want to see presidents, I want to see women achieving professorships. The figures I have indicate that approximately 19% of professorships in Ireland are held by women. That means that of every 100 employees in senior lectureships with whom female students interact, they will see 81 men and only 19 women in such senior levels in third level institutions. This is despite the fact that the majority of students going to universities and institutes of technology now are young women. This is a very bad context for those young women to see when they get into the higher education institutes.

There are several provisions relating to gender equality in the Bill. Section 9(1)(q) of the Bill, states that one of the functions of a technological university shall be to "promote the attainment of gender balance and equality of opportunity among the students and staff of the technological university". Section 12(5)(b) also provides that in making regulations relating to conduct of elections, seeking of nominations for appointment and appointment of members to the governing body, the technological university "shall have regard to the objective that at least 40 per cent of members of the governing body shall be women and at least 40 per cent shall be men". I also accepted an amendment from Deputy Thomas Byrne on Committee Stage in the Dáil that addresses the gender balance issue for academic councils. It now provides that at least 40% of the academic council of a technological university shall be women and at least 40% shall be men. Furthermore, section 19 of the Bill provides for the preparation by a technological university of equality statements. These will specify its policies on the promotion of access and equality, including gender equality, in all activities of the technological university.

On 6 November I announced the establishment of the gender equality task force, which I have just referenced. This high-level task force will prepare a prioritised three-year action plan in consultation with stakeholders. This has been provided for in the Action Plan for Education. The task force will also oversee a national systems review of the policies and practices pertaining to recruitment and promotion that currently are in place in higher education institutions with a view to identifying good practice and highlighting areas that need improvement. This will feed into the development of actions for the action plan. The task force will build on work that was done by the HEA's national review on gender equality in Irish higher education, which was published in 2016. That report provided important analysis of the progress towards gender equality in Irish higher education institutions and made recommendations. The task force will now identify good practices in the higher education sector, including in those institutions that have been awarded Athena SWAN awards. It will also derive lessons from the experience of those institutions that have not been successful with the Athena SWAN application.Although all universities and ITs are signed up to the charter, I do not view the attainment of particular awards-based standards as necessarily appropriate for inclusion in legislation of this nature. I just do not see putting one specific award into legislation as the right way to go. I believe it is too prescriptive. We are talking about Athena SWAN silver. There is a higher award.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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For the information of colleagues, the Athena SWAN charter was established in 2005 by the UK's equality challenge unit to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing the careers of women in science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine in higher education and research. In May 2015, the charter was expanded to recognise work undertaken in arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law, professional and support roles and for trans staff and students. The charter now recognises work undertaken to address gender equality more broadly and not just barriers to progression that affect women. That was just a little bit of research conducted on behalf of Senator Norris and his colleagues.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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I thank the Acting Chairman very much. I note with interest that we now have to apply to Britain for recognition of an Irish university. Hurrah for 1916.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Senator. Is Senator Ruane pressing the amendment?

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for her response. I completely get what she is saying around the amendment being very prescriptive. I will withdraw the amendment and give Senator Higgins the opportunity to submit a less prescriptive variation on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 25:

In page 30, line 29, to delete “located.” and substitute the following:“located;

(m) the applicant institutes demonstrate to the satisfaction of the advisory panel that the applicant institutes are fully compliant with both Irish and European Data Protection regulations and have procedures in place to ensure ongoing protection of individual’s data and privacy, including appropriate measures in relation to elearning.”.

This amendment will introduce a new subsection to ensure that the technological universities must have appropriate and necessary procedures in place to manage data protection. As colleagues will be aware, the new EU data protection directive, the GDPR, will take effect from May this year and will impact on all public and private bodies. It is important that this issue be given priority in the establishment of the technological universities and I think the provision would be a strong addition to the Bill.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator. The GDPR will come into force on 25 May 2018. It replaces the existing data protection framework under the EU data protection directive. Article 24 of the GDPR requires controllers, that is, the higher education institutions, to implement appropriate technical and organisational measures to ensure and to be able to demonstrate that processing of personal data is performed in accordance with the GDPR. The GDPR provides by law for greater accountability, transparency and security in respect of processing personal data. The Minister for Justice and Equality is currently progressing the Data Protection Bill 2017 and this Bill will provide for the implementation of new EU data protection rules which will come into force in May 2018.

These rules will apply to all organisations, public and private, large and small. The present Bill is not the requisite legislative vehicle, in my view, to seek to oversee compliance with such legislation. Therefore, I do not accept this amendment.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I withdraw the amendment and reserve the right to resubmit it on Report Stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed: "That section 28 stand part of the Bill."

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
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On the section, I would like to serve notice to the Minister of State that I am a little concerned about the definition of "research student" as contained in the Bill as published. It states:" "research student” means a student who is registered on a programme of education and training where not less than 60 per cent of the available credits are assigned in respect of a thesis or theses prepared by the student based on research conducted by him or her". I want to delete and substitute as follows: "a student registered on a programme of education leading to a research award as determined by the procedures established under the Act of 2012." In other words, the definition should be looking towards a research award, which is the end point. The definition currently proposed is entirely at odds with recognised definitions of a research student and would be contrary to what is currently accepted by Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI. There is a very strong argument for making this change and I will be proposing an amendment to that effect on Report Stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 29 agreed to.

SECTION 30

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I move amendment No. 26:

In page 31, to delete line 27 and substitute the following:“(a) demonstrating the standards required for university designation, and specifically eligibility under the criteria,”.

The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that compliance with the eligibility criteria as laid out in the Bill is not the maximum standard that would be applied to applicant institutes. An expert panel of evaluators should be using the criteria as a backbone to their assessment, which should certainly go beyond a mere checklist of certifying criteria if the technological universities are to be the higher education centres of excellence that the Minister has envisaged.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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The national framework of qualifications, NFQ, level 5 can refer to an honours level leaving certificate qualification as well as other types of further education. The amendment seeks to add to the requirement on applicant institutions such that as well as showing compliance with the eligibility criteria set out in section 29, an applicant institution would also demonstrate that it meets the standard required for university designation. These standards are not defined.

However, we have defined the eligibility criteria and the consortia have been working on them. To add at this stage an abstract concept such as, "the standards required for university designation", would bring a note of uncertainty and an element of subjectivity as to what such a standard is. What we have put into the Bill is eligibility for technological universities.

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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The point is that there are eligibility criteria but they should not be the final threshold. There would be an additional possibility to have more options available in terms of setting the bar. It is all about excellence and creating a bar to which one wants to aspire and not setting a criteria level at this stage without that option to develop upwards and onwards.

Photo of Mary Mitchell O'ConnorMary Mitchell O'Connor (Dún Laoghaire, Fine Gael)
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I want to answer that. If we go back to pages 28 to 30, inclusive, and most of page 31, they set out the bar as the Senator describes it. We are calling this bar "eligibility criteria". This includes a requirement to demonstrate compliance with the eligibility criteria. They are in the pages I have just named. Section 28 sets out in detail the eligibility criteria and makes it clear to the applicant institutes and any other assessment panel what criteria must be applied and measured in assessing the application. I would have concerns that the introduction now of an additional standard, not defined in the legislation, would introduce a degree of uncertainty and subjectivity. Section 30(a) is expressed in clear and precise terms. The wording used was drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government following consultation with the Department. Those are the reasons I am not accepting the amendment.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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Is Senator Grace O'Sullivan pressing the amendment?

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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No.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 30 agreed to.

Sections 31 to 48, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 49

Question proposed: "That section 49 stand part of the Bill."

Photo of Grace O'SullivanGrace O'Sullivan (Green Party)
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I want to put on the record that I intend to bring forward an amendment on Report Stage to include the promotion of the Irish language.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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It is duly noted.

Question put and agreed to.

Sections 50 to 64, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 65

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 27:

In page 51, line 22, to delete “student” and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 28:

In page 51, to delete lines 24 and 25 and substitute the following:
“ ‘student union’ has the meaning assigned to it by section 2 of the Technological Universities Act 2018;”,”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 29:

In page 51, line 24, to delete “student” where it firstly occurs and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 30:

In page 51, line 24, to delete “student” where it secondly occurs and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 65 agreed to.

Sections 66 and 67 agreed to.

SECTION 68

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 31:

In page 52, line 29, to delete “student” and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 68 agreed to.

Section 69 agreed to.

SECTION 70

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 32:

In page 54, lines 9 and 10, to delete “such number of students of the Institute, as it considers appropriate,” and substitute “at least 2 but not more than 4 students of the Institute”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 70 agreed to.

Sections 71 to 79, inclusive, agreed to.

SECTION 80

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 33:

In page 65, line 25, to delete “student” and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 34:

In page 65, to delete lines 27 and 28 and substitute the following:
“ ‘student union’ has the meaning assigned to it by section 2 of the Technological Universities Act 2018;”.”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 35:

In page 65, line 27, to delete “student” where it firstly occurs and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 36:

In page 65, line 27, to delete “student” where it secondly occurs and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 80 agreed to.

Section 81 agreed to.

SECTION 82

Photo of Paul GavanPaul Gavan (Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 37:

In page 66, line 20, to delete “student” and substitute “students’ ”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 82 agreed to.

Sections 83 and 84 agreed to.

SECTION 85

Photo of Lynn RuaneLynn Ruane (Independent)
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I move amendment No. 38:

In page 69, lines 14 and 15, to delete “such number of students of the college, as it considers appropriate,” and substitute “at least 2 but not more than 4 students of the college”.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Section 85 agreed to.

Sections 86 to 101, inclusive, agreed to.

Schedules 1 and 2 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to take Report Stage?

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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Tomorrow week.

Report Stage ordered for Wednesday, 21 February 2018.

Photo of Diarmuid WilsonDiarmuid Wilson (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Fine Gael)
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Ar 10.30 a.m. maidin amárach.

The Seanad adjourned at 7.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 February 2018.